The work of ministry

I’ve been reflecting on this photo of mine and what it’s actually about. It’s one of 25 images selected for a show titled “Essential Work 2020: A Community Portrait,” which opens today at the Michener Museum in Doylestown. When I submitted it a few months ago I was thinking about the heroic work of ordinary parish clergy this past year and how my fellow priests and deacons have stepped up during this covid time to meet challenges they could never have imagined.

But when I was interviewed by folks from the museum as they prepared for the opening I found myself telling a different story, talking not about hardship but about joy. Liturgy, as they taught us in seminary, is “the work of the people,” and the people in this picture were just so glad to be together, even if it meant bundling up and standing outside on a cold December morning. They were so glad to see each other again and to have communion again. (And maybe, from what folks said to me, in that order.)

This is what it says on the card next to the picture in the museum: “To comfort, challenge, and connect: this is always the essential work of ministry. In 2020 that meant praying with the dying and consoling their families by phone or video call, challenging the faithful to continue feeding the hungry as economic pressures grew, and preaching the Gospel call for justice in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty, while also keeping ordinary Sunday worship safe. Here at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in New Hope PA, the Rev. Michael Ruk leads an outdoor service which was also livestreamed via the iPhone visible on a tripod placed in front of the altar.”

And I stand by those words, but now I see that there’s more. It’s a picture of people who will stand outside in the cold to do what they do “in” church, and who are convinced when they walk away from that place that the work of living the Gospel is just beginning. It might be a little early by the liturgical calendar, but it’s an Easter picture.

It’s a wonderful show, by the way. You might think it would be all pictures of health care workers and first responders and there are some of those, but there’s a lot more. There’s joy, and commitment to justice, and ongoing family life, and people who kept working to keep us fed. And of course there’s heartbreak. I saw the show yesterday and came away with so many of the images still alive in my head, including one of an older couple holding hands. The family couldn’t be with them but they asked the hospice nurse to let them hold hands one last time. She did, and then she took this beautiful photo minutes before he died; later, his wife died, too.

This is an in-person show with timed admissions in a large space, and you can get your tickets on the museum’s website.

There’s more at